*Note – this article is about the documentary screening of “Thank You For Your Service,” a film directed by filmmaker Tom Donahue.*
Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program, partnered with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to hold an exclusive screening of Thank You for Your Service, an impactful new documentary about the failed mental health policies within the U.S. military and their tragic consequences. The screening was followed by a live panel discussion with Home Base’s Executive Director, Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond, and Dr. Peg Harvey, Director of the Intensive Clinical Program. Brigadier General (ret.) Dana Born, Faculty Co-Chair for the Center for Public Leadership, and Tom Donahue, Co-Founder of Creative Chaos and Director/Producer of Thank You for Your Service also participated on the panel.
The event was held at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday, September 7th. In addition to a strong Home Base representation of over 30 staff members, the event was attended by Harvard Kennedy School students and numerous local citizens.
Thank You For Your Service follows the inspiring real-life stories of four veterans that help contextualize the urgent and growing need for effective mental health services, for both active and retired service members. The film features interviews with some of our nation’s highest ranking military leadership, which serve to further illustrate the scope of the issues currently plaguing our armed forces.
Though the film focuses on just four Veterans, there was a sense that these four could be any one of the nearly 2.8 million Americans that have deployed since 9/11. Donahue traveled to 55 cities to conduct interviews with over 100 Veterans. All told, the footage took him two years to edit.
Donahue deftly paints a somber picture of a world forged by years of conflicts overseas, and touches upon the far-reaching implications of war that will likely impact communities for years to come. And yet, there is an underlying message of hope: there is a solution, there are people and programs committed to help, and the problem can be fixed.
There was silence as the credits rolled and the panelists made their way to the front of the room. Brigadier General (ret.) Dana Born then facilitated the hour-long panel discussion. Given the location of the event, it was not surprising that many of the questions were centered around the grassroots efforts and bureaucratic systems currently in place.
Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond insisted mental health care services should be made mandatory at the beginning of service, not just after a deployment, in order to reduce stigma. On a community level, Hammond stressed the need for a synchronization of efforts across all sectors.
“A silo’ed approach will fail every time,” he said, calling for a fluid, seamless partnership between community programs and the VA to help mitigate gaps in care.
Dr. Peg Harvey echoed this sentiment; Home Base is centered around the understanding that no one clinician can treat a problem, just as no one program can be the solution. Though the Home Base clinical team is imbued with a multitude of degrees, experiences, and skillsets, Harvey mandated that the most important tool her team can bestow upon their patients is hope.
“You are not alone in this box,” she said. “Making a small change can lead to larger changes. While this seems to be an insurmountable task to confront, there are solutions and evidence-based treatments.”
The panel wrapped up with a final question: “what is the “call to action?”
Hammond challenged the audience to help others understand the ongoing issues pertaining to Veterans’ mental healthcare and to remain grounded in the fact that this is an issue that can be solved. He tasked the audience with identifying key members of government who possess the courage to make change and demanding those individuals take action.
The film screening and panel discussion served as a vital reminder that there is a cost of war that transcends debt ceilings and death tolls. Each of the panelist’s answers echoed many of the points made in the film, and it was clear that there is a growing movement to create a community that enables Veterans to transition home more smoothly by helping them feel both valued and involved.